Friday, April 20, 2012

An Egyptologist Looks at Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: The August God and the "noble and great ones"

I have recently looked at Professor Robert K. Ritner's attempt to translate Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham (The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, "Hypocephalus of Sheshonq," 215-226). Among other useful observations, Professor Ritner reads the sign found in figure 12 not as sDr.w (asleep) but Sps (noble). Upon reexamination of the sign, I concur. Close comparison of the Church Historian's copy and of Hedlock against other hypocephali, which often speak of the "noble god," shows that the upper half of the Sps sign had been partially rubbed away or torn. So much for my wonderful ideas in an earlier post ("Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: A New Reading") about Kolob as the god asleep in the zp tpj. "Twixt wake and sleep," Kolob stands awake.

Getting things wrong is what it's all about--what learning is all about. We should be profoundly grateful for any new knowledge about Facsimile 2 of the sacred Book of Abraham, and, in this case, the new reading of the sign has enormous significance.

Sps instead of sDr? I had wondered about the same thing, yet strongly resisted the idea. In place of j nTr Spsj m zp tpj (O noble god in the first time), I had read--concurring with earlier translations and in light of my wonderful theory--j nTr sDr m zp tpj (O god sleeping in the first time). Besides, the -s that confirms the reading Sps had either been partly erased or is not clear from the original copy of the hypocephalus: Sps + s = Sps. So thanks to Dr. Ritner!

We must consider m zp tpj (in the first moment), in this case, to mean the same as hrw pn nj msw.t=f (this day of his birth ~ sunrise ~ in the first moment), as found on another hypocephalus. In other words, the appeal to a "princely, exalted, lordly, noble, high-ranking god (manifest) in the First Moment" is an appeal to the most exalted entity among the "noble and great ones," one whose descending brightness and brilliance fill the entire universe with light and life. He is thus also lord of heaven, earth, netherworld, waters, mountains, etc, with power to enliven the Osirian Ba. According to the Prophet Joseph, Figure 1 (Kolob) signifies "the first creation" and is also "First in government." If nTr Spsj speaks of a princely, or principal, governing god, then m zp tpj, "in the first time," matches "the first creation."

How nicely everything matches up. The third chapter of Abraham records the vision of Kolob and the stars--thus matching Facsimile 2--and Abraham 3:22 goes on to speak of the "noble and great ones" at the morn of creation (m zp tpj). Should we then be surprised to find on Facsimile 2 a pairing of the same words: "great" and "noble"? On the left-hand panel we read both j nTr Spsj (O noble god; Leiden AMS 62: O noble ba-spirit) and nTr a3 (great god) on the right: j nTr pf a3 (O this great god). How closely "noble" and "great" belong together in these texts is made clear by the wording of the left-hand panels on Leiden AMS 62. The prayer found thereon matches that of Facsimile 2, with one exception. The prayer begins: j nTr pf Spsj instead of a3. Abraham, we are told, stood among those who qualified as both Sps and a3--and so does his restored book of scripture stand among the records of antiquity.

To find "noble and great" as yoke-fellows not on the hypocephali alone but also in Abraham chapter 3 is what Hugh Nibley would call a "direct hit" for the Book of Abraham. The translation of Abraham 3:22 thus partakes of "the specific and the peculiar" (another phrase from Nibley), which means not only specific to the culture and language but peculiar to a specific kind of document and to a specific theme. (The principal theme of Abraham 3 is the nature of greatness and rank.)

And since we are talking about the hypocephalus, a specific document, or collection of documents, let us also remember how Joseph Smith, in his last doctrinal discourse, June 16, 1844, spoke specifically about translating Abraham Chapter 3 from " the papyrus now in my house." The translation "noble and great" derives from both the hieroglyphic and hieratic writings found directly on papyri in Joseph's keeping (Andrew E. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (eds), The Words of Joseph Smith, 380). The panels on Facsimile 2 make the matter clear.

I note of late a faddish skepticism about the Book of Abraham. I meet such intellectual posing, such prompt dismissal, with wonder.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.